Milestones Festival Hall
132 John Street
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $45
Regular readers will notice a dearth of references to mainstream chain restaurants on this site. When we started TasteTO, that wasn’t our intention – our aim was to cover anything and everything related to food, including the mid-range family-oriented chains, because we wanted to reflect how real people eat. Somehow the middle got lost between the two extremes of cool, high end places, and “hole-in-the-wall, best X ever” low end joints. And, well, because the middle more often than not ends up being mediocre. This isn’t always the case – I once had an outstanding steak at Jack Astor’s, and both Greg and I recall having had a passably decent meal at Milestones, which is how we ended up there on a recent Sunday morning when we had errands to run nearby.
The first thing we notice about the place is just how big everything is. The menus are huge and we joke to the server that she never needs to lift weights, she must get a workout just carrying around these huge books. The ceiling is high – meant to be soaring and impressive, no doubt, but then the light fixtures are also massive. The coffee cups, glasses, cutlery and plates – also huge, and I can’t help wondering what the psychology behind this is. Because places like this are designed with an intended “experience” in mind. Are we supposed to feel that everything is lush and grand? Or is there some psychology that is supposed to make us feel small and insignificant?
Whatever the intention, old Milestones is looking a bit dated and rough around the edges, with booths covered in a brown patchwork of fabrics that screams 2002, and a martini theme edging into the lighting fixtures and coat racks that would have been very cute in 1998. It’s an ironic theme as well given that Milestones only grudgingly lists a regular martini on their horribly passé “Martini Menu” after a rainbow of cocktail concoctions filled with juice and blue crap.
Right, but we’re here for brunch.
The menu itself doesn’t look too bad (we intentionally avoid the 2-pound tome that is the lunch menu). There are some standards (French toast, omlettes, a breakfast burrito), but we go for some of the more unique offerings.
Benedict comes in the standard ham version ($10.99) but there’s also a California Benedict with shrimp and avocado ($12.99), and the Eggs Milestones ($10.99) which is Canadian goat cheese, sliced tomatoes and avocado salsa. And it’s actually not bad. It’s not perfect (hello, watery pink imported tomato), but the goat cheese (chèvre, to be specific, which the menu is not) goes great with the avocado salsa (essentially a chunky guacamole). I’m less impressed with the accompanying homefries which are as salty as the Dead Sea and come topped with a glob of weird tomato salsa which I’m guessing is supposed to serve as some kind of homemade ketchup. It would be better served on the side.
Across the table, the husband has ordered what sounds like a really interesting dish. The prime rib hash ($12.99) is slow roasted, thinly sliced prime rib tossed with roasted potatoes, bell peppers, sweet onion and roasted corn in “our speciality hash seasoning”. Topped with two poached eggs, hollandaise, roma tomatoes and “toasted herb Filone”, which turns out to be a fancy name for a hunk of toasted baguette.
Now, look at that list of ingredients again. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sounds hearty and rib-sticking and filling and even very, very tasty. And it would be, except for the “speciality hash seasoning” which, as best we can tell, is a sickly sweet and overly salty BBQ sauce. It is, quite honestly, terrible. Greg manages about a quarter of the dish before guzzling a huge glass of water (thank goodness for the extra-large glasses) to try and get the salt taste out of his mouth.
Our server is disappointed that we don’t want dessert, but we just can’t bear to be there anymore. We’re desperate to leave, disappointed that our voyage into mainstream dining has hit all the stereotypes and clichés that food snobs heap upon it. That’s right – there’s a reason why foodsters don’t come to places like this. Because we eat for the love of food, not just to fill the hole.
One final note that I can’t let pass – while the ladies room was visibly clean and tidy (and even had a picture of Johnny Depp at its entrance), the place smelled like a row of porta-potties left out in the hot sun after a weekend-long beer festival. I’ve been in dive nightclubs where the toilets have backed up (awww… Sanctuary!) that didn’t smell this bad.
Middle-class diners, seriously, you all deserve better. There are plenty of places out there with decent food and clean bathrooms, and real martinis. You don’t have to spend $500 for one meal, or go to little ethnic joints and eat anuses and eyeballs – there are plenty of wonderful restaurants in our city that are comparable to the chains in terms of price (especially at brunch) that would delight you. Don’t be afraid – move past the mediocrity. You’ll be so happy that you did.